Osteopathy has become one of the world’s leading complementary medicines. Founded by physician and surgeon, Andrew Taylor Still, it is based on the principle that an individual’s wellbeing is dependent on their body’s bones, muscles, ligaments and connective tissue working together harmoniously.
Still founded osteopathy in the late 1800s in Kirksville, Missouri. As a surgeon, his opinion was that medical treatments of the time often did little to heal the body and in some cases, he thought caused more harm than good.
His aim was to restore the body to optimum health with the absolute minimum of prescription drug or surgical intervention. With this in mind, he developed a system of medical care that would promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself. This included physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase joint mobility, relieve muscle tension, enhance circulation and encourage the body to heal.
Still coined the term ‘osteopathy’ for his new school of medicine. His reasoning was that ‘the bone, osteo, was the starting point from which [he] was to ascertain the cause of pathological conditions’.
(Early American Manual Therapy)
His tenets of osteopathic medicine were pretty blunt, describing an osteopath as a mechanic. As stated in the first edition of Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine, ‘The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind and spirit’. Yet Still had strong spiritual feelings that were intertwined with his osteopathic philosophy.
He began treating patients suffering from a huge range of ailments, including arthritis and dysentery. Soon, his reputation spread and people from across the US made their way to Kirksville for osteopathic treatment. Demand became so high that boarding houses had to built and train routes altered to cope with the amount of patients heading to Kirksville to see if osteopathy would help them.
By 1892, Still had taken on 22 osteopathic students to be taught at what is now known as the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. Both men and women, at a time when any type of gender equality was still incredibly rare, spent two years qualifying as Doctors of Osteopathy, holding full practice rights on graduation.
An early student of Still’s was J Martin Littlejohn. He went on to establish the Chicago College of Osteopathy before moving back to Britain in 1913 and helping to found the British School of Osteopathy (BSO) and the Journal of Osteopathy. As such, Littlejohn is widely credited for introducing osteopathy to Europe.
Upon the introduction of the Osteopaths Act in 1993, the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) was established, followed by the Osteopathic Register in 1998. This means that osteopathy is now recognised as a legally regulated profession. Although still regarded in the UK as a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM), osteopathy is subject to statutory regulations just as ‘conventional’ medical systems. Osteopaths must be fully qualified and registered with the GOsC to be able to practice legally.
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